Maldon Quaker Meeting House
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- Butt Lane, Maldon, Essex, CM9 5HD
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- Statutory Address:
- Butt Lane, Maldon, Essex, CM9 5HD
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Maldon (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Quaker Meeting House. Built in 1820-1821, with later extensions and alterations.
Reasons for Designation
Maldon Quaker Meeting House, situated on Butt Lane, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* the restrained Classically-informed design typifies the simple, ‘polite’ architectural development of Georgian and Regency Quaker meeting houses; * interior fittings including the main Elders’ stand and evidence for a second stand, dado, and shuttered partition dividing the principal meeting house spaces, provide evidence for the division of space and internal arrangements typical for earlier Quaker meeting houses.
* a purpose-built early-C19 Quaker Meeting House standing in its attached burial ground, that speaks to the development of Quakerism locally; * the meeting house is associated with notable Quaker and peace activist Eric Baker, whose grave is in the attached burial ground.
The Quaker movement emerged out of a period of religious and political turmoil in the mid-C17. Its main protagonist, George Fox, openly rejected traditional religious doctrine, instead promoting the theory that all people could have a direct relationship with God, without dependence on sermonising ministers, nor the necessity of consecrated places of worship. Fox, originally from Leicestershire, claimed the Holy Spirit was within each person, and from 1647 travelled the country as an itinerant preacher. 1652 was pivotal in his campaign; after a vision on Pendle Hill, Lancashire, Fox was moved to visit Firbank Fell, Cumbria, where he delivered a rousing, three-hour speech to an assembly of 1000 people, and recruited numerous converts. The Quakers, formally named the Religious Society of Friends, was thus established.
Fox asserted that no one place was holier than another, and in their early days, the new congregations often met for silent worship at outdoor locations; the use of members' houses, barns, and other secular premises followed. Persecution of Nonconformists proliferated in the period, with Quakers suffering disproportionately. The Quaker Act of 1662, and the Conventicle Act of 1664, forbade their meetings, though they continued in defiance, and a number of meeting houses date from this early period. Broad Campden, Gloucestershire, came into Quaker use in 1663 and is the earliest meeting house in Britain, although it was out of use from 1871 to 1961. The meeting house at Hertford, 1670, is the oldest to be purpose built. The Act of Toleration, passed in 1689, was one of several steps towards freedom of worship outside the established church, and thereafter meeting houses began to make their mark on the landscape.
Quaker meeting houses are generally characterised by simplicity of design, both externally and internally, reflecting the form of worship they were designed to accommodate. The earliest purpose-built meeting houses were built by local craftsmen following regional traditions and were on a domestic scale, frequently resembling vernacular houses; at the same time, a number of older buildings were converted to Quaker use. From the first, most meeting houses shared certain characteristics, containing a well-lit meeting hall with a simple arrangement of seating. In time a raised stand became common behind the bench for the Elders, so that traveling ministers could be better heard. Where possible, a meeting house would provide separate accommodation for the women’s business meetings, and early meeting houses may retain a timber screen, allowing the separation (and combination) of spaces for business and worship. In general, the meeting house will have little or no decoration or enrichment, with joinery frequently left unpainted. Ancillary buildings erected in addition to a meeting house could include stabling and covered spaces such as a gig house; caretaker’s accommodation; or a school room or adult school.
Throughout the C18 and early C19 many new meeting houses were built, or earlier buildings remodelled, with ‘polite’, Classically-informed designs appearing, reflecting architectural trends more widely. However, the buildings were generally of modest size and with minimal ornament, although examples in urban settings tended to be more architecturally ambitious. After 1800, it became more common for meeting houses to be designed by an architect or surveyor. The Victorian and Edwardian periods saw greater stylistic eclecticism, though the Gothic Revival associated with the Established Church was not embraced; on the other hand, Arts and Crafts principles had much in common with those of the Quakers, and a number of meeting houses show the influence of that movement.
The C20 saw changes in the way meeting houses were used which influenced their design and layout. In 1896 it was decided to unite men’s and women’s business, so separate rooms were no longer needed, whilst from the mid-1920s ministers were not recorded, and consequently stands were rarely provided in new buildings. Seating was therefore rearranged without reference to the stand, with moveable chairs set in concentric circles becoming the norm in smaller meeting houses. By the interwar years, there was a shift towards more flexible internal planning, together with the provision of additional rooms for purposes other than worship, reflecting the meeting house’s community role – the need for greater contact with other Christians and a more active contribution within the wider world had been an increasing concern since the 1890s. Traditional styles continued to be favoured, from grander Classical buildings in urban centres to local examples in domestic neo-Georgian.
By the late 1600s, Friends in Maldon were meeting in a rented space, and in 1706 arranged to purchase a plot to construct their own meeting house. That site, behind the south side of the High Street, cost £4 and the meeting house opened in 1707. The numbers of Quakers in Maldon having grown, a new site on Butt Lane was acquired in 1818 and the present meeting house, with a burial ground, was constructed between 1820 and 1821 at a cost of £1,233. The previous building was sold.
The late-Georgian meeting house consisted of two rooms, divided by a timber partition which may have included moveable panels. An entrance porch was added in 1850. In 1863 the women’s business room was subdivided to create ground floor committee rooms on the northern side, with a small second floor room above. Electricity was laid in 1943.
In 1952 the north-west corner of the meeting house was rebuilt following subsidence. A small ground floor extension providing toilets was added to the north elevation in 1958, replaced by a slightly larger block in 1980. Dropped ceilings were inserted to the main rooms in the 1960s in response to the challenge of heating these large spaces. A small boiler room was built on to the south elevation in 1987, replaced with a larger extension in 1999 that includes wheelchair access to the meeting house.
The meeting house stands in the contemporary burial ground. This includes the grave of Eric Baker (1920-1976), a founder of Amnesty International and its Acting Director-General from 1967 to 1968. Baker was Head of Quaker Peace and Social Witness, one of the central committees of Britain Yearly Meeting, which works to promote Quaker testimonies of equality, justice, peace, simplicity, and truth. A pacifist and conscientious objector in the Second World War, he dedicated his life to peace activism.
Friends Meeting House. Built in 1820-1821, with later extensions and alterations.
MATERIALS: red brick laid to Flemish bond, slate roof coverings.
PLAN: the tall single-storey meeting house is rectangular on plan with a hipped roof. The small entrance porch and the boiler room extension have pitched roofs, whilst the toilet block to the north has a hipped lean-to roof.
EXTERIOR: the meeting house is situated in the Quaker burial ground on Butt Lane, oriented north-west to south-east (simplified in the following description to north-south). It is a single-storey building with a low brick plinth, a hipped roof with deep projecting eaves, a small front porch and two small side extensions. Circular tie-plates are visible in the plinth to the north and south elevations.
The main (west) elevation comprises three bays with the entrance porch of 1850 to the centre at ground level and a blind oculus above. Flanking the oculus are two tall blind round-arched recesses. The pedimented porch has a double-leaf entrance door in a moulded architrave, and a blind round-arched recess in each return wall. All these blind recesses have stone sills.
The north elevation comprises five bays. The centre bay is largely obscured by the toilet block of 1980, above which the upper part of a large blind round-arched recess can be seen. The two bays to either side include large round-headed window openings in the upper level, with fourteen-over-eight-light timber sash windows including radial glazing to the upper sashes. In the far bay to the right, additional irregular fenestration lights the upstairs space inserted in 1863.
The south elevation comprises five bays, similar to the north: the central bay is obscured by the extension of 1999, above which the top of a large blind rounded-headed recess is visible. The two bays to either side include matching large round-headed window openings with fourteen-over-eight-light timber sash windows including radial glazing to the upper sashes. The east elevation is blind.
INTERIOR: the meeting house is divided into two principal spaces, the former women’s business room to the west and the main meeting room to the east. The west porch leads into the former women’s business room, which has a fixed bench to the south wall (part of a former Elders’ stand), and to the north wall the kitchen and small ground-floor room inserted in 1863. In the small room a door leads into the attached toilet block, and a staircase in the north-east corner leads to the upstairs space.
A full-height partition divides the eastern room from the western room, accessed via a centrally-placed, partially-glazed, double-leaf door (the door is a late replacement). Evidence for sash shutters in the partition is reported to survive in the roof space. The main meeting room includes a two-tier Elders’ stand to the full length of the east wall. The stand is accessed via short flights of four steps with handrails, turned newels, and stick balusters, to the north and south ends. The stand’s front bench includes a central opening. There are fixed benches to the north and south walls. Both meeting rooms have a vertical-panelled dado and timber floors, and dropped ceilings.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Butler, D M (Author), The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, Volume 1, (1999), pp193-4
University of Bradford Library, Special Collections: Papers of Eric Baker, accessed 13 January 2020 from https://www.bradford.ac.uk/library/special-collections/collections/papers-of-eric-baker/
Friends Meeting House, Maldon: historic building record. Architectural History Practice, 2014, http://heritage.quaker.org.uk
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing